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Tuesday, January 23, 2018

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Announcing The McKnight Artist Fellowship Program
McKnight Foundation

September, 2010

n mid-2009, The McKnight Foundation completed a comprehensive review of our arts program. As a result, we adopted a new goal for our arts grantmaking: to support an environment in which artists are valued leaders in our community, with access to the resources and opportunities they need to succeed.

The goal puts artists squarely at the center of our grantmaking program. Minnesota artists are the primary drivers of our cultural community. We have a deep pool of exceptional artists, who represent every discipline and genre. While touring artists and exhibitions add vibrancy and variety, Minnesota is unusual because of the quality and engagement of the working artists who call our community home. Recognition of the role these professionals play in enriching the quality of life and opportunity in Minnesota has guided McKnight's arts giving for more than 25 years, beginning with the simple but radical notion of fellowships for artists.

A history of support

cKnight has awarded fellowships to artists every year since 1982. From its inception, the fellowship program has served choreographers, composers, writers, visual artists, photographers, and playwrights; awards for theater artists, ceramic artists, filmmakers, screenwriters, performing musicians, and dancers were added later.

Today, the Foundation gives nearly $1 million per year to Minnesota artists through its statewide fellowships. Fellowships are administered by nine community-based organizations with expertise in their respective fields and experience serving working artists. The costs of managing the program are funded by McKnight, and decisions are made by jurors outside of the organization. Each fellowship of $25,000 is made in recognition of a body of work created over time by a fellow who demonstrates standing as a midcareer artist in his or her field. There is virtually no prescription as to how the money gets spent.

For some, the fellowship is working capital to buy equipment, produce work, or hire collaborators. For others, a down payment on a house, childcare expenses, or delayed dental work are top priority. Above all, the fellowship buys time. The ability to set aside time from other contracts and jobs to focus on their work is what artists have consistently and resoundingly valued in the awards.

A fellowship allows time for study, reflection, experimentation and exploration; to take advantage of an opportunity; or to work on a new project. In fact, many artists request that their fellowship be disbursed in small increments over the course of the year to create a more standard, predictable financial framework. "This helps a writer feel like he or she is getting a paycheck for being an artist," says Jerod Santek, fellowship director at the Loft.

The Loft Literary Center
"McKnight's fellowship program allows an artist to simply be an artist," emphasizes Mary Ellen Childs, director of choreographer and dancer fellowships and herself a past McKnight fellow. "People have started retirement funds, or college funds for their kids. People get to do normal things."

A fellowship at this stage in a career not only affords time to finish a book, research a work-in-progress, or explore a new direction entirely; it is a tremendous vote of confidence and can open doors to new opportunities or advocates.

Across all disciplines, we work with program directors to find compelling ways to leverage the resources of the fellowship site to benefit artists. Visual artists, ceramic artists, and photographers are featured in exhibitions, for example. Playwrights are matched with collaborators to develop their script. Dancers receive funds to commission a solo work, which is featured in a biennial showcase. In some cases, sites select national artists-in-residence, as well, whose time in Minnesota is spent immersed in the artistic community.

Artists at the heart

he fellowships program helps make Minnesota a place for an artist to build a career," says Polly Carl, producing artistic director at the Playwrights' Center. "It is one of the main things that define the creative landscape here. Artists come here because they know there is support."

To further this goal, McKnight's fellowship program is unique in several ways:

  • Awards are offered in every discipline every year
  • McKnight's is among the largest place-based fellowship programs
  • In the fields of theater, dance, and music, fellowships are offered to performers (sometimes characterized as "interpreting" artists rather than "primary creators," and often ineligible for grant support)
  • Artists can get fellowships multiple times

There are tangible and intangible benefits of the fellowships. The most tangible, of course, is cash, giving recourse to equipment, materials, rehearsal time, and other things that contribute to a body of work. "In addition to financial remuneration," says Childs, "a fellowship is an honor, an acknowledgement, bringing with it recognition and visibility. These are no small things for an artist." These intangible results can be just as important to an artist's long-term success.

Santek echoes this sentiment. "Even for the artists named as 'honorable mention,' which carries with it no financial component, the responses are so emotional that I'm afraid they didn't understand that they didn't win the award."

John Jodzio, a 2009 fellow in prose, so impressed a McKnight fellowship juror that he brought Jodzio to California as a guest lecturer for his creative writing class, and sponsored a very successful reading. The validation Jodzio got from this experience was worth nearly as much as the fellowship itself.

"One of the most important things to come from this fellowship is the confidence that it gives to continue to do what I do with the knowing that it is being noticed and appreciated," Myron Johnson, choreography fellow from 2007, says. "It means a great deal to me because, like most artists, I spend a lot of time second guessing myself and wondering if anyone even notices what I do."

Building a field

y housing the fellowships in community organizations, the foundation supports the infrastructure of artist services, multiplying the impact of the program. Minnesota's suite of artist service organizations is unrivaled anywhere. These organizations, which provide income opportunities, space, technical assistance, advocacy, camaraderie, and training, are leaders in their fields. By entrusting the fellowships to these nonprofits, we help to build an environment in which artists are supported and valued.

"McKnight has understood the value of supporting artists directly," says Polly Carl. "Furthermore, the fellowship program allows artist service organizations to have a base of support for what we do. While we have built support from other areas, the Playwrights' Center wouldn't be where we are today without McKnight support."

The converse is also true: McKnight's support for Minnesota artists would not be possible without the efforts of the Playwrights' Center, the Loft, the Southern Theater, and every artist service organization that calls this state home. Their work provides crucial opportunities for artists to thrive.

"The fellowship program underscores the Foundation's deep respect for the role of artists in Minnesota's communities," says McKnight's arts program director Vickie Benson. "When artists have the time and resources to do their work, we all benefit from living in a more imaginative and vibrant place."

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